Embrace Differentiation and Underserved Markets

CUs aware of the opportunity to serve Hispanics might not know where to start.

October 1, 2012
The credit union movement’s greatest success has been its strong differentiation in the marketplace. As community-oriented organizations, credit unions seek to improve their members’ financial lives.
If there’s a shortcoming within the movement, perhaps it has to do with not capitalizing strongly enough on that differentiation with the masses.

To truly compete in a rapidly changing financial marketplace, credit unions must be strategic about their positioning within the communities they serve. Credit union leaders can make great headway by focusing on, and proactively marketing, the “people helping people” philosophy.

This is nothing more than moving forward with the cooperative principles and spirit on which credit unions were founded. That philosophy binds credit unions across the world, and it’s a unique movement that continues to resonate with many different cultures and demographic groups..

In the U.S., credit unions have made significant strides in expanding membership. Many credit unions today, for instance, have strategically increased their presence in the lives of Hispanics and new Americans. These are markets in desperate need of financial relationships.

Historically, immigrant families have relied on alternative providers to obtain the financial services they need. Forward-thinking credit unions are conducting outreach to steer this vitally important market to credit union membership and, ultimately, to provide Hispanic members with the dignified financial services they deserve.

Not all credit unions, though, have embraced the prospect of increasing efforts to attract, serve, and retain Hispanic and new American populations. It’s not that these credit unions are off-course. More likely, they’re unaware of the great potential existing within this marketplace.

Many do not see the huge opportunity before them to serve these largely untapped markets—markets that are young, growing, and thirsty for dignified, fair financial services.

Even credit unions aware of this opportunity might be holding back because they don’t know where to start. It can be intimidating to conduct the research required to truly reach a new target market. The passion to serve emerging markets is there. What might be lacking is orientation: Where do we start?

To introduce more credit unions to the opportunities before them, we must:
Continue to do the work;
Continue to create awareness of the investment potential of these emerging markets; and
Remind one another of the philosophical and business imperative that drives credit union success—people helping people.

Once credit union management is aware of the possibilities, it must be guided through workable next steps—a proven process to help staff, board members, and even leaders adapt to these markets, rather than force the markets to adapt to them.

Credit unions, like all businesses, understand there’s always room for improvement. In fact, that’s why Coopera, a CUNA strategic partner, was formed—to help more credit unions fulfill their ultimate mission, specifically by serving deserving markets with sustainable, dignified financial services.

As credit unions work to launch or enhance Hispanic growth strategies, they often witness an enlivened spirit among staff and their communities. That’s because the efforts take them back to their roots—strengthening their mission, and reminding credit union enthusiasts what it means to truly be a part of the movement.

MIRIAM DE DIOS is CEO of Coopera.